Over the last couple of years I’ve been spending an increasing amount of my time burrowing into the music scene in Belfast – gradually moving my way towards somewhere that I could see myself putting some roots down and settling.
Being a creative is great. It gives me permission to make music. I get to splurge in a place where expression is elevated over internalisation and the poetry of the process is valued high above short, need-to-know bullet points. Working in the creative sector also allows me to not have it altogether. Nine times out of 10, it’s vulnerability that out-performs professionalism, and messy, raw, undone emotion that outdoes clinical efficiency. Efficiency has always been a word that fills me with intense fear, so this arrangement suits me nicely.
As a bonus, there are even some other people with unkempt hair and badly coordinated outfits. And they’re considered very cool. Promise.
So I stop, and I dig.
However, I also use the word ‘burrowing’ because there is something very tentative about my approach and sometimes it decelerates to a half-hearted clawing, pawing, at the ground.
While this can be because there is a lot about the arts I don’t want to be involved with – the constant schmoozing, the perpetual self-promotion, the predictable disorganization – in truth, the reason I hesitate most of the time is less to do with the parts of the sector I don’t like and more to do with what being part of such a movement asks from me.
Create what hasn’t been created. Perform what has never been performed. Let the unknown become known. And make it good. Make it really, really good. Life-changing-people-crying-heart-swellingly-good.
I don’t feel in any way cut out for that. Suddenly, burrowing seems less likely to lead to a dry, cosy habitat and feels more like I’m forging an early grave for myself.
So I slow the pace, wonder if I should stop digging altogether and consider going and lying in a heap instead. And sometimes I do just that.
In both my art and in my obedience to God – often one and the same – I’m far too quick to register discomfort as the enemy and retreat from what I know I should be pursuing. To opt out of things because the thought of them makes me feel wrong, rather than commit to the things I know are right; the things that show me up as human, and reveal God as, gloriously, God.
That’s where the rub lies, because there is nothing more frightening or risky than being explicitly yourself, uncurbed and unedited.
Instead, it’s that mixture of self-doubt and expectation that occurs all at once when someone makes the leap between what they have been so far and what they know they are called to be; the stomach-churning possibility of rejection for the novelist, an inattentive audience for the musician, an unfavourable review for the playwright – these discomforts must, like the shock of first air, be endured before the game changing novel, song or play is able to take off with a life of its own and become something great.
And as it is with art, so it is with life.
The Exodus. The Fall of the Midianites. The Virgin Birth. The Resurrection.
Time and time again, the greatness of God’s kingdom on earth comes through those who know what is asked of them and feel entirely ill at ease about it, yet follow through anyway. And the result? His will on earth done just as it is in Heaven.
According to the Bible, feeling inadequate is not a reason to refrain from action. In fact, it’s more than likely a reason – or at least part of one – for taking it. In our cynical and unforgiving culture, it makes sense that the new kingdom feels unfamiliar – with all its hope and acceptance and wholeness – but it doesn’t make sense to stop working at it, dust our hands off and back away.
In my brief, microscopic-sized music ‘career’, two occasions stand out. One in which I decided to tell my journey through depression via song – praying it wasn’t as nauseating as it sounds, and one in which I decided to sing a capella in a jail for the anti-slavery charity No More Traffik. Both had me ready to donate my body to science or medicine or whoever would take me first, but – now that they are safely in the past – both are also filed under the ‘highlights’ section in my memory. Not because they were the best performances of my life, but because without anything glamorous to hide behind, any prospect of commercial success, any illusion that I am anything other than a limited, vulnerable, insecure human being, I could be my most me and I think God could be seen more for who He actually is – infinite, all-powerful, wholly self-sufficient. The patient with their healer, the hostage with their rescuer – it makes for a beautifully stark, beautifully hopeful contrast.
So, on reflection, I think that I will return to burrowing into Belfast’s weird/wonderful/nasty/heartwarming music scene – except with a little more purpose and a little less naivety. If my goal was to find a home, feeling uncomfortable, unappreciated and jaded would easily put me off the whole thing – but it’s dawning on me slowly, that that is not what I am here for.
I have not been put here to settle. None of us have been put here to settle. If we feel a little like lying in a heap sometimes, we should simply clock it as part of the journey – discomfort acting as a speed bump or two, but definitely not as the all-conclusive stop sign.
Chances are all it indicates is that we are simply closer than we usually are to co-creating something great.